The Digital Crossroads

It feels like the world is at a crossroads.

It’s the beginning of 2021 and most of the planet is still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic with many locations under lockdown restrictions.

In these circumstances we humans are migrating more of our lives to the digital world than ever before.

In January we witnessed one of the biggest mass propaganda campaigns ever seen indoctrinate millions of US citizens into a conspiracy theory which culminated in the tragic events of January the 6th.

This fallout from this terrible event is shining a spotlight on the way that our beliefs can be manipulated through digitally transmitted political propaganda.

Most importantly there is now a more urgent discussion on how we got here and how certain communications technologies are polarizing internet users into opposing viewpoints.

The Internet has a lot of problems to solve.

  • Walled gardens like Facebook and Twitter give an incredible amount of influence and personal data to US based tech companies.
  • Filter bubbles are an emergent property of social network use. The majority of internet users discover new content through apps that use algorithms to present them with new content such as videos, news articles and tweets. Users only see articles that reinforce their own point of view.
  • We have an attention shortage. The algorithms used by social networks are combined with other techniques used to keep our attention focused on the new content which is interspersed with the advertising that makes the social media companies money.
  • Decisions on hate speech moderation and censorship are taken by companies that are run for commercial gain not for the good of global society.
  • Regulation of the social media giants primarily rests with the US government even though the whole world is affected by these issues.

Despite these serious societal problems there is still reason to be optimistic.

Here in the UK COVID vaccination is well underway and while COVID will be with us for a long time, society will emerge stronger having been through the pandemic.

To deal with COVID we have been forced to reconfigure the way that we work.

Employers are seeing the benifits of working from home and many on-line businesses are thriving after initially being forced to adapt.

The disruption of COVID and the shock of the US insurrection has sparked many long overdue conversations about new way to work while respecting our physical and mental health.

I’m lucky enough to live in Scotland – a country of great natural beauty. Since the pandemic began the cities are less appealing due to population density increasing the risk of spreading COVID.

Is it possible that a new wave of remote workers will be relocating to smaller towns or the countryside to seek a healthier and less croweded lifestyle?

When the world opens up once more, this could be an opportunity to boost the economy of our rural areas via working holidays and the digital nomad lifestyle.

Problems to solve are opportunities for innovation.

We have the technology, the bandwidth and the working techniques to rise to these challenges.

After waiting so long there is light at the end of the tunnel and now is the time to choose the shape of our future .